Penang Eco 100 again delivered on its reputation as being probably the most underestimated event in Asia Trail Master. As last year, both the 100 miles and 100k SuperTrail A-races were filled with drama and unexpected twists. And even though, he did not follow into the footsteps of his compatriot Manolito Divina by winning the 100 miles, Philippines’ Wilnar Iglesia scored a great 3rd place that puts him on top of the 2018 Asia Trail Master Championship.
Normally there is always a solid rainshower at some point during Penang Eco, but this year it was just hot and humid all the way. It made everything just a bit more runable, but clearly some of the race favourites got too excited. A quartet of four runners took off on the 100 miles with a blistering pace. Japan’s Tomohiro Mizukoshi, who is becoming a regular contender on the ATM tour, actually felt so good he went out in front by himself. Behind him were top favourites Steven Ong, the ATM champion and winner of Penang Eco 100K last year, Wilnar Iglesia and another Japanese ace, Sota Ogawa. Malaysia’s other iron in the fire, Sabah’s Milton Bin Amat, took a more conservative approach knowing his technical skills would be best applied 100% during the very technical final 60 km of the race. Australia’s Joanna Kruk made another trip to ATM from Adelaide, Australia, and was following the leading quartet as first woman. America’s Susan Swier was giving her a run of her money, though. Swier is known as a fast ultra road runner and found those initial flat runable sections very much to her liking. She won Merapoh Trail 70k last year, but otherwise she has had little credentials on the trail circuit. As it happened, after being passed by Kruk after approx 40k, she kept the pressure and was only losing minute-by-minute for most of the saturday. Swier would pay the price for that eventually, as she faded away in the final technical sections and ultimately finished third behind Law Lay Eng, from Malaysia also. Kruk was looking superb herself, as usual, and at some point the question was if she would manage to compete with the male leaders for the overall win.
The men’s 100 milers were blowing each other up. Steven Ong, not yet fully recovered from a flu attack a few days before the race, even decided he had enough after approx 65k. Being busy setting up his own running shop in Kuala Lumpur, Ong's ATM campaign will require a strong surge in the second half of the season if he is to retain his title this year. Next was Sota Ogawa. Not used to the heat and humidity of Malaysia, Ogawa suffered from major stomach issues that prevented him from absorbing anything just before sunset. The Japanese top trail runner was a DNF. Meanwhile, a runner from Hong Kong was slowly making up ground on the leaders… and at km 112 we had the unusual situation of having three 100 milers sitting at the checkpoint together: Wilnar Iglesia, Tomohiro Mizukoshi and Law Chor Kin! Indeed, it was the Hong Kong runner Law Chor Kin who appeared by far the freshest of the three. Iglesia had just lost valuable energy missing a marker and doing an extra hill, and Mizukoshi looked cooked. The scene did not lie. In the final 55km, Law Chor Kin quickly built up a solid advantage to grab a very intelligent and admirable victory in 26h15. A newcomer on the ATM tour, he scores 600 points for the championship. Behind him, Iglesia was increasingly struggling on the tough technical jungle terrain and Mizukoshi needed to catch sleep at a checkpoint in the middle of the night. Mizukoshi deserves a lot of applause for his very courageous race at the beginning, even when in the end it did not fully played out. He would cross the finish line in 7th place in 34h49. A loss of over 8h30 on 56km compared to Law Chor Kin says enough. But he made it, and he moves up to 6th place in the ATM championship!
It was clear that a conservative start was the best strategy last weekend. Wilnar Iglesia stlll got himself overtaken towards the end of the race by local Malaysian veteran Liew Tho Fatt, who produced a fantastic and well-balanced effort. Milton Bin Amat finished in 4th place, the same result as in the 9 Dragons Ultra. He moves up to 11th place in the ATM championship and is also the first Malaysian. Experience counts big time at Penang Eco 100 miles. Lau Say Niong came home in sixth place, just ahead of Soo Kong Yong.
The 100K race at Penang Eco is also considered an A-race for the ATM Championship and thus attracts a lot of strong runners, too. On paper, it was going to be a battle between several Asia-based expats and Mohamed Affindi from Malaysia in the men’s. In the women’s Vietnam-based Marieke Dekkers from the Netherlands was the top favourite, similar to Joanna Kruk on the 100 miles. Dekkers proved to be fastest, indeed. The training partner of ATM Champion Kim Matthews won her second ATM race of the season after Dalat Ultra Trail in 20h21. Dekkers climbs up to 4th place in the championship standings. Malaysia’s Siokhar Lim was a very happy second place last Sunday in 22h 25, as it happened to be her first ever 100k race. The podium was completed by another Malaysian, Lili Wong.
The men’s race started quite explosively, similar to the 100 miles earlier that day. Mohamed Affindi, Alessandro Sherpa and David Giannelli took off quicky. Affindi and Sherpa then went by themselves as Gianelli lost a bit of terrain. Hong Kong trail star John Ellis, meanwhile, was biding his time as he usually does. Running 10-15 minutes behind the leading duo in the early hours, it looked every bit of a standard Ellis strategy. Chin Yit Khiang, living in Hong Kong but born and raised in Penang, Britain’s Sam McGrath and Japan’s Hisashi Kitamura were keeping up also. Halfway, Ellis caught up and took the race lead. Drama unfolded shortly after for both Mohamed Affindi and David Gianelli. Affindi twisted his ankle badly in a downhill section and saw no other option but to retire from the race! Technical runner Giannelli, who had just begun to decrease the time gap to the frontrunners, missed a crucial marker and suddenly found himself two checkpoints further down the course. Demotivated, Gianneli retired from the race. All of this was happening in the middle of the night, and Ellis was steadily opening up a bit of a gap on Alessandro Sherpa, until suddenly he didn’t anymore. Sherpa clearly had not yet given up on the race win and, perhaps using his bigger experience of negotiating South East Asian trails, managed to fight his way back to a struggling Ellis in the last 15k! Something one rarely sees on an ultra trail, but it proved again what a treacherous and therefore almost unique race Penang Eco 100 is. The Singapore-based Italian dropped Ellis in the last 9k and cruised to a big victory in 14h25, three minutes ahead of John Ellis. A bit in the shadow of the leading duo, but by all means a stellar effort was third-placed Chin Yit Khiang in 15h30. Behind them it was three hours till the finish of Sam McGrath, Hisashi Kitamura and Beng Wan.
Sherpa’s win over Ellis could prove meaningful later in the season when the ATM championship gets decided. Sherpa collects 550 to Ellis’ 500 and jumps to 4th place in the ranking with 3 results in the books, while Ellis is now 8th with 2 results.
While all finishers of Penang Eco deserve a honourary mentioning, we would like to note that Japan’s Masafumi Yamamoto finished his 5th ATM race of the season already, of which 4 Grandmaster distances plus CMU 50, the Philippines’ SuperTrail back in March. Respect!
The next points race in the ATM championship is the first of four races in Japan this season: Kushigata Wind Trail. It’s also one of the shortest on the circuit with 30 km , but also 2500 hm.